Best Outer Banks Vacations and Family Attractions

By Jayne Clark

Ah, the beach. Whether building sand castles, playing beach volleyball or venturing into the ocean to catch some waves, there’s nothing more fun for families than a seaside vacation.

But even the most devoted beach-loving family needs an occasional break. Fortunately, finding alternative kid-friendly activities—from visiting wildlife refuges to viewing living history re-enactments—is a breeze in North Carolina’s Outer Banks.

Here are some of the region’s don’t-miss venues.

Jockey’s Ridge State Park

Vacation rentals, Outer Banks

The 426-acre park consists of a giant sand mountain—the largest natural dune on the East Coast. Its location in the middle of Nags Head makes it accessible for those staying in the Outer Banks’ northern or southern communities.

Insiders swear it’s the best spot for hang-gliding, kite-flying and hiking. There are two self-guided hiking trails, plus nature programs, a visitor center and museum.

Wright Brothers National Memorial

Outer Banks family vacations

Channel your inner Orville and Wilbur by posing with a full-size replica of the aviation pioneers’ plane. This is where the first controlled power flight was achieved in 1903. That event and other aviation hallmarks are chronicled in an exhibit hall. Historical markers note key events that occurred here. The site is in Kill Devil Hills near Kitty Hawk.

Roanoke Island Festival Park

Best Outer Banks vacations

This interactive living-history park relates the story of the first English colony in the New World. The settlers arrived via seven ships in 1585. A replica of one, the Elizabeth II, allows a hands-on experience.

At the re-recreated settlement site you’ll get a taste of daily 16th-century life via costumed interpreters. A replica Indian village depicts the Native American lifestyle. Boardwalk trails surround the site, and summer brings concerts to the outdoor pavilion.

Pirate Adventures of the Outer Banks

Outer Banks vacations

Kids are encouraged to channel their inner pirate (or mermaid) aboard the Sea Gypsy. The adventure begins with young participants getting decked out in face paint and costumes. Then they board the Sea Gypsy, a “pirate” ship anchored in Manteo, and sail out into Roanoke Island’s Shallowbag Bay and adjacent Roanoke Sound. The role-playing adventure centers on pursuing an evil pirate and recovering sunken treasure. What kind of kid wouldn't love that?

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

Best Outer Banks Family Attractions

One of two lighthouses within the Cape Hatteras National Seashore that are open seasonally for self-guided climbs, this 1870 black-and-white beauty claims title as the tallest brick lighthouse in North America.

Its 257 steps winding up to the balcony are the equivalent of ascending a 12-story building. The National Park Service cautions visitors that it may be noisy, humid, hot and dim. Other than that, who doesn’t love a lighthouse? It’s on Hatteras Island in the town of Buxton near the southernmost end of the Outer Banks.

Ready to plan an Outer Banks vacation? Find the perfect Outer Banks vacation rental.

Washington, DC-based freelance travel writer Jayne Clark has been a travel reporter at USA TODAY and several other daily newspapers.